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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 5 March, 2003, 10:47 GMT
Australian flogged for 'thief wife'
A public execution captured on camera
The UN has criticised Saudi Arabia's harsh justice system
Australian Prime Minister John Howard has sharply criticised Saudi Arabia for jailing and flogging an Australian man for a crime allegedly committed by his wife.

Robert Thomas was sentenced last September to 16 months in prison and 300 lashes, and has since been caned 50 strokes at a time.

He was deemed responsible for the actions of his wife after she was convicted of stealing hospital equipment, an offence she denied.

Mr Howard said the sentence appeared "appallingly inhumane", and a formal complaint was being lodged with the Saudi Government.


Mr Thomas, 55, has lived in Saudi Arabia for 10 years, and was running the sterilisation department of the Prince Abdullah Bin Adbulaziz Hospital in Riyadh when he was arrested last June.

Under Saudi Arabia's Sharia law, he was found guilty of association when his Filipino wife, Lorna, was convicted and jailed for 16 months.

He is upset, he feels betrayed
Robert Thomas' daughter

Mr Thomas' family in Melbourne was told that under Saudi culture, it was "inconceivable" that a woman could commit a crime without her husband's knowledge, the AFP news agency reported.

"On the face of it, and I don't know all the circumstances, it seems appallingly inhumane," Mr Howard said.

"I know we have to accept that if we go to another country we are subject to the laws of that country but it does seem to me to be cruelly disproportionate punishment according to the values and the understandings of Australians."

Mr Howard said he would talk to his foreign minister to pursue the case.

"Australia regards caning as a cruel, inhumane and degrading punishment, and a violation of internationally accepted human rights standards," an Australian Government spokesman said.

Mr Thomas' daughter told reporters her father is being treated "like an animal" in prison.

"Dad believes that Lorna did commit the crime," she said. "He is upset, he feels betrayed and he won't be seeking to bring her home to Australia when he is released."

Saudi 'torture' condemned by UN
16 May 02 |  Middle East
Analysis: Saudi rough justice
28 Mar 00 |  Middle East
Country profile: Saudi Arabia
03 Mar 03 |  Country profiles


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